Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Buying A Car During Bankruptcy

There are a surprising number of options for a debtor to retain possession of a vehicle during bankruptcy. Choosing the best option depends on several factors including your ability to pay and the condition of your vehicle. In some cases the best financial option is to surrender your vehicle back to the bank and purchase a different one.

Years ago it was unheard of for a debtor in an active bankruptcy to obtain an auto loan. Several years ago two companies, 722 Redemption Funding, and Fresh Start Loan Corporation, began making auto loans to debtors in bankruptcy, and now many banks have lending programs for debtors. The attitude towards bankruptcy has changed and many debtors are evaluated more on their future ability to pay the loan rather than their past financial trouble.

Obtaining an auto loan during bankruptcy is a matter of showing stable income, a good debt-to-income ratio, and some assurance that your current financial trouble is unusual and not likely to reoccur. All lenders require a loan application and the criteria for approval can vary significantly. Some lenders will not approve a loan if you have had a prior repossession. Other lenders want a substantial down payment. New auto loans often want the bankruptcy discharged before approving the loan. In all cases your vehicle choice will be restricted to a newer vehicle with low miles.

During a Chapter 7 bankruptcy the debtor and the lender are free to negotiate terms outside of the bankruptcy case. The loan is not a part of the case and is not affected by the bankruptcy discharge. For Chapter 13 debtors, any new indebtedness must be approved by the trustee and the court. In most cases the Chapter 13 debtor can obtain approval after a showing of need and ability to pay.

If you are considering bankruptcy and need to buy a different vehicle, consult with an experienced attorney. There are many different options during bankruptcy for retaining, refinancing, or purchasing a different vehicle. Call today and get the information you need to drive your financial future.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are People In Need Avoiding Bankruptcy?

Although bankruptcy filings are climbing back to the all-time high of 2 million reached in 2005, there is a growing concern that many Americans in need of bankruptcy protection are not filing. A recent article in USA Today quotes Katherine Porter, associate professor of law at the University of Iowa who says, “[T]he filing rate doesn’t even begin to count the depth of financial pain.”

Are you hurting financially? Bankruptcy can help ease that pain.

Bankruptcy is a federal legal process for declaring an inability to pay your creditors. When you file bankruptcy you get immediate relief. The bankruptcy court imposes an “automatic stay” prohibiting creditors from taking collection action against you while the bankruptcy case is pending. The automatic stay is very powerful and stops lawsuits, wage garnishments, and even foreclosures. Its purpose is to give the debtor some breathing room and an opportunity to decide how to resolve an overwhelming debt problem.

There are typically two different types of bankruptcy cases: chapter 7 and chapter 13. In chapter 7 you eliminate debt without payment while chapter 13 is a repayment plan over three to five years. At the end of a bankruptcy case the court enters an order discharging eligible debts and permanently prohibits creditors from taking collection action against you.

In some cases certain debts are not discharged. The most common types are family support obligations, student loans, and taxes. However, bankruptcy offers significant relief by discharging other debts and freeing up money to pay the non-discharged debt. Chapter 13 can also be helpful by allowing payment of the non-dischargeable debt under the supervision of the bankruptcy court and without fear of lawsuits, wage garnishments, or other nasty creditor action.

The bankruptcy process is very efficient. For most chapter 7 debtors the case will last a few months and requires one meeting with the bankruptcy trustee. The cost of bankruptcy is very reasonable compared to the relief that is given.

If you are hurting financially, speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney and discover how the federal bankruptcy laws can help you. There are many options available in the law and can give you real relief from overwhelming debt.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Keeping A Credit Card During Bankruptcy

A credit card is a safe and convenient way to pay for life’s necessities. In some cases a credit card is required to purchase goods or services. Debit cards are often a poor substitute for a credit card as bank holds can tie up your account for days.

If you want to keep a credit card during your bankruptcy, there are a few things to know. First, the Bankruptcy Code requires that you list all of your creditors and debts owed on the date of the bankruptcy filing. Consequently, if a credit card has a zero balance on the date that you file bankruptcy, it does not need to be listed and the credit card company does not receive notice.

Second, the use of credit during a chapter 13 bankruptcy is prohibited without prior authorization from the trustee and bankruptcy court. Usually credit approval is contingent upon a written agreement or statement from the credit card company. Chapter 7 debtors do not have this restriction.

Third, a payment on a credit card within 90 days before your bankruptcy filing may be considered a preference payment. The bankruptcy trustee may seek a court order compelling the credit card company to turn over any pre-filing payments.

Fourth, credit card companies conduct regular checks of their cardholders’ credit and your bankruptcy filing may result in the card issuer closing your account, reducing your credit line, or increasing your interest rate. These actions may also occur if you choose to reaffirm your debt with the credit card company. After reaffirming the debt the card may be cancelled and you are stuck with a non-discharged credit card balance.

Fifth, intentional failure to list a credit card with a balance can result in dismissal of your bankruptcy case. The bankruptcy court expects you to be entirely truthful concerning who you owe, regardless of your intention to pay the debt.

Sixth, consider obtaining credit after your bankruptcy discharge. Many debtors are offered unsecured credit cards shortly after their bankruptcy discharge. Many creditors consider a recently discharged debtor a good credit risk because the debtor is unable to receive another bankruptcy discharge for several years, and likely has a good debt-to-income ratio. Many post-discharge credit card offers carry high interest rates and fees, so choose wisely.

Secured credit cards are another credit option after bankruptcy. A secured credit card requires a security deposit placed with the credit card company who then issues a credit line secured by the deposit. Many banks and credit unions offer their customers secured credit cards at reasonable interest rates.

If you are interested in keeping a credit card during bankruptcy, consult with your bankruptcy attorney. Your attorney can discuss your options and help you decide on the best way to maintain a credit card account during and after your bankruptcy.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Making Your First Chapter 13 Payment

In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case the debtor proposes a plan to pay back creditors. That plan is composed of monthly payments to satisfy all or part of the creditors' claims over three to five years. Monthly payments are made to the Chapter 13 Trustee, who then pays your creditors.

There is often confusion over when the first plan payment due. Section 1326 of the Bankruptcy Code directs that the first payment must be made within 30 days after filing the bankruptcy case, even if the debtor’s bankruptcy plan has not yet been approved by the court. Often the first meeting with the Trustee (also known as the "341 meeting" or "meeting of creditors") is scheduled more than 30 days after the filing date, so the Trustee expects your first payment before that meeting. The Trustee will hold all payments until the plan is approved by the Bankruptcy Court (called "confirmation"), and then make distributions to creditors.

It is critical that you make this initial payment within thirty days after filing. It is especially important to monitor the status of this first payment when you have instructed your employer to pay the Trustee from your wages. It is your responsibility to ensure that this first payment is made, and neither the Trustee nor the Bankruptcy Court gives much latitude to a debtor who misses the first deadline in the case.

Making a timely first Chapter 13 payment allows your plan to proceed to confirmation and will expedite the bankruptcy process. Failure to commence making payments can result in delays, additional expenses, or even dismissal. Consult with your bankruptcy attorney regarding payment details, and make that first payment on-time!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Who Will Know About My Bankruptcy?

Filing bankruptcy is a very personal process. Many clients worry that their friends and neighbors will learn about their bankruptcy. A common question is, "Who will know about my bankruptcy?"

First, personal bankruptcy cases are generally not reported in the local newspaper. Unless you are a celebrity or public figure, your bankruptcy is not newsworthy. More than 1.4 million consumer filings were recorded last year, so many larger newspapers would have to publish thousands of bankruptcies in their papers each month. It is not cost-effective for a newspaper to search through the bankruptcy court records to find individuals who filed in their distribution area and use valuable print space to report on personal bankruptcy cases.

Second, the bankruptcy laws require notices of the bankruptcy filing to go out to the following:

1. Everyone you owe money (called "creditors");
2. The bankruptcy trustee;
3. Co-signors and co-debtors; and
4. You and your attorney.

Under special circumstances other notices are sent, for instance if you owe taxes, or if you want to terminate a lease or contract. Family, neighbors, friends, your employer, your bank, etc. will generally not receive notice of your bankruptcy. A common exception to this general rule is when the debtor causes a voluntary wage withholding to pay chapter 13 plan payments.

Third, while bankruptcy court proceedings and trustee meetings are open to the public, it is unusual for the press or members of the public to attend. Most of these meetings are very brief and can even be a little boring.

Finally, other than receiving notice of the bankruptcy filing from the bankruptcy court, there are only a few ways to learn of a bankruptcy case. The most common way is to contact the bankruptcy court directly. Most bankruptcy courts have an automated telephone system that will provide basic case information to the public.

Filing a bankruptcy petition is generally a private and confidential process. While there are no guarantees that your friends and neighbors will not learn about your bankruptcy, chances are they will not unless you decide to tell them. However, every case is different. If you have specific questions about the effects of filing bankruptcy, consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.